Creating Iago’s Audiobook

by Rose Guildenstern

My publisher asked me to write a blog for their website about the experience of collaborating to craft Iago’ Penumbra into an audiobook. I thought it would be fun to share this article on my own website as well, so–here it is:

It’s become critical for any novel published today to be offered in three formats: physical book, eBook, and the ever more popular audiobook. With this in mind, for the first time REDFeather released all three versions of Iago’s Penumbra within a month of each other to offer potential readers the option(s) they prefer to explore the immersive world of Iago’s Penumbra. What I learned through this process, however, is that creating an audiobook is far more involved than simply converting physical book to digital text. In order to make the best audiobook possible, we needed to find the right narrator to read it.

I first heard Melanie Hooks read my novel aloud at an all-night rogue retreat during the Southern California Writer’s Conference in San Diego, California. I was on the third draft of the novel at that time and had just finished reworking a critical chapter in which Val, a clairvoyant heartthrob, confronts the “Big Bad” terror of the novel for the very first time. It’s frightening, but also shockingly humorous, and most crucially sets the stage for the broader exploration of spiritual reality revealed throughout the cosmic horror that’s to come. And it just so happened that Melanie, an accomplished voice actress in her own right, would read the chapter aloud to the critique group that night. Although she and I had no idea at the time, this was actually her impromptu audition to eventually be the novel’s audiobook narrator in the future, for as soon as I heard her give voice to these challenging characters so flawlessly, simultaneously capturing their individual expression of character while communicating the horror and humor seamlessly, I knew I’d met the person meant to voice the audiobook version of Iago’s Penumbra.

Melanie was the consummate professional to work with and she made the arduous process fun, too. Creating an audiobook truly is a separate creation, not just a continuation of the novel. In preparation, while she read the novel herself, she sent me an involved character sheet to fill out about the main characters, exploring their goals, hidden motives, flaws, and even asking me to find a modern celebrity whose voice encapsulates the character in my own head. This final aspect was unexpected and quite eye-opening. She said she would not copy the celebrity voice exactly but use their vocal intonations and habitual manner of speaking to create an entirely new voice for each character.

Curious about whom I chose? Well, here are the main characters from the final list I sent her:

  • Vee: Combination of Megan Follows’ Anne of Green Gables with Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday Addams
  • Val: Robert Pattinson’s Edward Cullen from Twilight
  • Iago: David Tennant’s Crowley from Good Omens
  • The prince of darkness: Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka
  • Julie: Whitney Houston’s Rachel Marron from The Bodyguard
  • Peter: Zac Effron’s Charlie St. Cloud

Next, Melanie sent me various audio tracks to choose from as she experimented with different vocal interpretations of the characters based on my notes. I chose my favorite version, and she began to record the audiobook, chapter by chapter, which she sent me to give further notes on as she painstakingly honed the vocal expression of the broader story. She’d even send me various clips of certain critical takes to choose the one that worked best, giving the Houngan his distinct accent and learning the many curious occult and literary terms with their often archaic pronunciations.

The process took months, and I’m thrilled with the result. In an interview with IG influencer Chris Onareo, he commented that he played the audiobook in the background while he read Iago’s Penumbra, because Melanie’s voice acting brought such life to the characters. As professional book editor Jean Jenkins wrote me in her notes:

“…this story comes alive when read aloud. There’s very much a performance element to it.”

Whether your inclination is softcover, eBook, or audiobook, immerse yourself in my metaphysical novel Iago’s Penumbra today, and let your spirit take flight.

**Link to the original blog on my publisher’s website:

To buy directly from my publisher: